OTTAWA — The leaders of the federal Conservatives and NDP say Canada should send aid to India as it struggles with a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases, while the Liberal government has yet to announce any details of how it plans to help.
U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to send help to the country of nearly 1.4 billion people, where hospitals are reporting that they are running out of oxygen to treat patients.
The White House has said it will send raw materials needed to make Covishield, the version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced at the Serum Institute of India, along with therapeutics, rapid-testing kids, ventilators and potentially oxygen.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Friday Canada will "stand ready" with personal protective equipment, ventilators and "any items that might be useful," but as of Monday the federal government had yet to provide more specifics.
The Indian government is scrambling to source medical products including liquid oxygen and oxygen concentrators — a medical device that concentrates oxygen from ambient air — said Ajay Bisaria, India's high commissioner to Canada.
"We were ready for a big wave, but this became a tsunami nothing like India’s ever seen before, and nothing like we saw in the first wave," Bisaria said in an interview.
He said Anand has been "very helpful” in connecting diplomatic officials in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver to manufacturers, but the degree to which Canada can help remains uncertain.
"Canada has some technologies where it makes ventilators and oxygen concentrators. With bedside oxygen concentrators, we’re not very clear about whether they’re manufactured in Canada or they’re imported from other sources in the U.S.," Bisaria said.
“We haven’t got to any drug manufacturers yet."
In the meantime, Indo-Canadian community organizations have “rushed in” to help, he added. The Indian Red Cross Society has been authorized to handle donations related to COVID-19 from groups abroad.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said he supports sending aid but also called for tougher travel restrictions. Canada announced last week a 30-day suspension of all flights from India and Pakistan, but O'Toole said the government should take a stronger stance.
"Let's help our friends in India, but let's also have an approach of stopping international flights until we can get a handle on keeping the variants out of Canada," he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said India's situation is "catastrophic" and Canada needs to act as a global citizen, because when the novel coronavirus spreads badly in one region, it affects others.
Early in the pandemic O'Toole was critical of the Liberal government sending personal protective equipment to China, but he said that was because Canada didn't have enough of its own supply, which is no longer the case.
His party points to the decision as one of the government’s early failings in the pandemic. The Tories say Canada lacked an adequate stockpile of masks and gloves needed by health-care workers to battle the virus.
On the question of sending aide to India, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet expressed support for doing so, saying the pandemic is taking a global toll and "sometimes we have to behave like a planet."
Canada says it has procured 2.7 billon items of personal protective equipment, with 1.5 billion pieces already delivered for use.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.
— With files from Christopher Reynolds
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press